Small-town humility with big employer energy. Those are two key elements behind the success of Red Rooster Coffee, a coffee roaster that started in Floyd, Virginia, 13 years ago. Small-town humility because they started and continue to thrive in a town of 432 people. Big employer energy because even though they're still relatively small, with 47 employees, they offer above-and-beyond benefits, like 100% coverage of health insurance premiums and onsite childcare. And being "successful" isn't what drives them - it's making an impact at home and wherever their coffee comes from or goes. From eco-friendly packaging to scholarships and free meals during COVID, see how the extremely approachable team at Red Rooster puts as much thought into who they work with as they put into their coffees.
Starting in a town with just 432 folks, Red Rooster Coffee has quite the origin story. Can you walk us through how this small-town gem grew into the coffee powerhouse it is today?
Calling Red Rooster a powerhouse is a bit generous! In many ways we are still the same small-town, family-run company we started as 13 years ago. We are still learning every day and concentrating on quality. That focus on quality and customer education are probably the keys to our success. Starting out in a small town meant that for the first year or two we had really personal interactions with all of our customers. This helped us hone our craft and pushed us to become experts in the field. This also led all of our staff to become very passionate and enthusiastic about coffee, which led to better quality and better customer education.
Your connection to the community is impressive. Can you share some heartwarming stories about how you've become an integral part of your small rural town?
Our community focus is always on finding some way to help the disenfranchised or the folks who need a leg up. One of our biggest projects was during Covid, when we started the Win/Win initiative to raise funds to make food for our local food pantry, Plenty. We took donations from our customers in $10 increments and turned that money into 6,000 ready to eat meals for the food pantry. In turn, we were able to keep our kitchen staff working during some really hard times. This year we started an annual college scholarship for local students who represent diverse or traditionally disenfranchised backgrounds. In light of recent cuts to the arts, we donated to the high school theater department and to the high school marching band. Each year we donate $1 per bag from our Thanksgiving blend (Grateful Coffee) to a charitable organization. Last year it was the Floyd Initiative for Safe Housing. This year we are giving to the local alternative elementary school, Blue Mountain. Our hope is to be able to focus our giving in specific arenas where it will do the most good in the areas where there is the most needed.
Sustainability is a core focus at Red Rooster. In addition to partnering with Steeped, what are some of the other eco-friendly initiatives you've embraced?
We think about sustainability in every step of our business. From biodegradable packaging solutions, to composting all food waste from our cafe, to recycling every piece of plastic in our facility, we spend a lot of time and energy focused on the environment. Our latest initiative, which is still in the nascent stages, is switching our coffee packaging to be made from Post Consumer Recyclables and developing a program to make it easy for customers to recycle their bags, thus creating a closed loop and cutting down on the use of virgin petroleum.
Sourcing coffee is a many-layered system which is only made more complex when you try to make sure that you are buying unique coffees, paying high premiums, and supporting sustainable agriculture at origin. We source coffee across several channels - for our Organic blends we mainly use cooperatives with many small holders. For our single origins, we mainly source coffees from several importers, as well as purchasing directly from the producers themselves. When sourcing these coffees, we look for quality, we look for a good relationship between the importer and the producer, and we typically will try to have long relationships and purchase from producers that we have purchased from in the past. Occasionally, if we get a truly great recommendation from an importer, we purchase a coffee without sampling first, but more often than not, we take a green sample, roast it and cup it for quality, then determine whether or not we have room in our line-up. I’d say our method of buying is somewhat unique in that we buy many small lots of coffee throughout the year, sometimes offering small quantities of 30 or more coffees in a year.
Behind every great brand, there's a great story. Can you share a memorable experience that reflects Red Rooster Coffee's impact, whether it's in your neighborhood or in a coffee farmer's life?
We’ve always made an effort to show up for our staff, and I think in general we punch above our weight in this department. I think this is probably the place where the culture of Red Rooster has the most direct impact. For example, we’re the only coffee company in the US with an onsite childcare facility and we subsidize most of that cost. We started offering 100% health insurance premium coverage in 2015 when we only had 5 employees and that continues today with 47 employees. And we just started a matching retirement account for all employees, part time and full time. I think every small employer would like to take better care of their staff, pay more, offer more benefits, and generally just try to create a place where people love to work. It’s probably the biggest challenge but it’s also the place where your efforts have the most impact.
Looking into the future, what's brewing at Red Rooster Coffee? Any exciting plans or projects on the horizon that we should keep an eye out for?
Several… but nothing we can talk about just yet. There will be a few really exciting new products rolling out in the near future, but until the ink is dry, we can’t divulge anything. :)